Sunday, July 01, 2007

How John McCain saved America

From NRO:

In a truly roundabout way, the immigration deal was sunk by John McCain.

The Arizona senator, one of the key dealmakers and supporters of the measure, voted for cloture — cutting off debate to proceed to a vote — of course. But the controversial bill was so delicate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to bring the bill up with a controversial “clay pigeon” amendment show. The obscure procedure was leadership’s last best hope to keep the bill from being changed in any way that would make supporters jump ship.

On Wednesday, the Senate considered several amendments under the clay-pigeon setup, beginning with the ones considered relatively easy to defeat. But they included an amendment by Max Baucus (D., Mont.) that would prohibit “Real ID,” contending that digital ID cards represent an unreasonable government intrusion into Americans’ private lives. But when the 15 minutes of voting had passed, the Baucus amendment still had enough votes to avoid being tabled, or killed.

Holding the vote open for 40 minutes, Reid and deal supporters put extraordinary effort into arm-twisting to table Baucus’s amendment, which threatened the delicate balance they thought they had a handle on. Reid and bill backers found themselves one vote short of the 50 needed to dismiss Baucus’s amendment. There were two senators missing: Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, still recovering from brain surgery, and McCain, out of town at a fundraising event.

Had McCain been there, he would have been the 50th vote, the amendment would been killed, and the clay-pigeon process could have continued. With that, perhaps, the bill might have been able to scrape together the 60 votes needed for cloture. Without the 50th vote, Reid released the senators, and Baucus’s amendment survived, 52-45.

As it was, no further amendments could be considered before cloture, as unanimous consent was required to move to another one. Opponents were quick to object.

“Reid’s staff knew at that point, they were toast,” said a GOP Senate aide. “I don’t think Reid knew it. He asked what they could do at that point [on the floor], and somebody on our side yelled, ‘You can’t do anything! See you at cloture!’”

This is simply too good to be true. If crazy John McCain had not been off in a desperate effort to raise money for his hopeless presidential campaign he would have been present on the Senate floor and just might have been able to save his amnesty bill.The image of an egomaniacal politician driven by hubris to pursue two massively difficult goals, only to see his devotion to each destroy his ability to achieve the other so that he winds up completely bereft and ruined is the stuff of a Sophocles tragedy.

I guess the chorus is represented by the right-wing blogosphere.

Of course there is more than irony worthy of the Moirae themselves here. There is also the useful information that Baucus amendment passed 52 – 45, meaning that a majority of Senators do not want businesses to have what would probably be the single best tool to help them determine the legality of any prospective employee.

Another lesson here is that Republicans must not be afraid to support real conservatives in primary challenges to RINOs. Arlen Specter was one of the Senate’s Republican movers and shakers behind the amnesty bill. At one point he even complained that several Senators were voting the way their constituents wanted them to vote rather than the way the Senators themselves wanted to vote. He was even heard to huff and puff about how in a confrontation between the Senate and the people the “will of the Senate” would and should prevail.

Arlen Specter is a man who by all rights should not even be in the US Senate. In his last campaign for reelection he faced a serious primary challenge from conservative Pat Toomey. It appeared all but certain that Toomey would displace Specter on the ballot in the general election.

Specter was saved at the last minute by the decision of George W Bush (who was campaigning for his own reelection at the time, a campaign he was destined to win with a comfortable majority) to use his popularity to campaign for Specter. Bush’s support, which also brought the RNC in against Toomey and in support of Specter, was enough to tip the balance in Specter’s favor.

This was only possible because Pennsylvania Republicans allowed themselves to be persuaded to support Specter. Republicans must not open themselves to such persuasion in the future. In my opinion the best place to start is in South Carolina. Palmetto Republicans must seek out a conservative challenger to Lindsey Graham. Then they must support that conservative in spite of all the efforts that the RNC and big name Republicans will bring to Graham’s defense.